1 August 2006
Development of Sensor Technology Earns Jerome Paros Sperry Award
“In the 1960s, instrumentation was all analog. I recognized one could make higher resolution and more accurate measurements in the time domain with digital sensors.” —Paros
By Jim Strothman
Minutes after a tsunami killed more than 160,000 people in the Indian Ocean region on 26 December 2004, the telephones began ringing at little-known Redmond, Wash.-based Paroscientific Inc.
Just one month before, Paroscientific and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) jointly presented a paper at an international conference in Japan urging expansion of existing tsunami detection systems in the Pacific to the Indian Ocean.
Detecting tsunamis and other complex geophysical phenomena can be done—if governments are willing to invest (thus far, a big “if”)—with quartz crystal resonator sensor technology. First introduced by Jerome M. “Jerry” Paros at a 1972 ISA conference, the technology has proven to be important for numerous scientific applications. Because of his achievements developing it, Paros, Paroscientific president and chairman, has won ISA’s coveted Albert F. Sperry Founder Award.
Paros began developing the first quartz crystal resonator pressure transducers in the 1960s. Today, Paroscientific’s application areas include such diverse fields as oceanography, meteorology, hydrology, energy exploration, process control, aerospace, and laboratory instrumentation.
ISA’s Albert F. Sperry Founder Award is the society’s outstanding achievement award and recognizes technical, educational, or philosophical contributions to the science and technology of instrumentation, systems, and automation. The award is named for Albert F. Sperry, who was internationally recognized for his contributions to the advancement and development of instrumentation as an innovator, business executive, and ISA leader. Sperry served as the first ISA President in 1946 and was elected an Honorary Member of ISA in 1956.
The award may be conferred annually and carries a $3,000 honorarium and plaque. Paros will be recognized for receiving it at ISA’s annual Honors and Awards (H&A) Banquet on 16 October at the Hyatt RegencyHouston.
“I’m greatly honored by the Sperry award and very pleased with the recognition that some of the work we’ve been involved in has made significant contributions to science and engineering,” Paros said. “The tie-in with ISA is interesting, with the first public pronouncement of our work made at the ISA 1972 conference.” It was later published in a 1973 edition of ISA Transactions.
A key to the development of the quartz crystal resonator sensor technology was making the decision to go to digital sensing, rather than analog. “In the 1960s, instrumentation was all analog,” Paros said. “I recognized one could make higher resolution and more accurate measurements in the time domain with digital sensors.” Good luck helped, he said, because soon afterward the rapid expansion of microprocessor-based digital data acquisition and control systems required more precise, digitally compatible sensors. “We decided to characterize the confluence of our vision and good luck as good planning,” he said.
According to Paroscientific, its high-precision digital pressure sensors “operate on the principle of changing the resonant frequency of load-sensitive quartz crystals with pressure-induced stress. Quartz crystal temperature sensors are incorporated as an integral part of the pressure transducers for purposes of thermal compensation. Frequency signals from the quartz crystals are counted and linearized through microprocessor-based electronics to provide two-way communications and control in a number of digital formats. The high precision pressure instrumentation has resolution of better than 0.0001% and typical accuracy of 0.01%, even under difficult environmental conditions.”
High-accuracy, broadband, quartz pressure transducers are the most important sensors used in many atmospheric, oceanic, and hydrologic applications because they permit the measurement of phenomena having great spatial and temporal variability. An example is the ability to measure changes in water level with better than millimeter sensitivity at depths of thousands of meters. These transducers are the key sensors used for detecting tsunamis.
Logic would suggest governments would happily seize the technology to warn its citizens. However, governments typically react only after a disaster occurs, Paros said, acknowledging frustration.
One month before the December 2004 tsunami, when Paroscientific and NOAA jointly urged expansion of existing tsunami detection systems in the Pacific to the Indian Ocean at an international conference in Japan, a government official from one of the countries dashed the idea. He pointed out a tsunami hadn’t hit the area in 300 years.
“A month later, the deadly tsunami occurred, and the following month, we were inundated with interest by governments around the world,” Paros said. Unfortunately, even if the detection network had been established, countries like Indonesia still lack the infrastructure to get the news to people quickly, he said.
The Paroscientific founder expresses similar exasperation with the current U.S. government’s reluctance to accept the scientific proof of global warming. “We urge governments not to debate the science, which is clear now, but rather to establish policies that will do something about it,” Paros said.
Paros received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics at the University of Massachusetts and Columbia University. He holds more than 20 patents and has authored numerous articles on instrumentation used for measurement sciences. Paroscientific and related companies he founded now manufacture a wide variety of sensors that use the quartz crystal resonator technology he developed to measure pressure, acceleration, temperature, weight, and other parameters.
Walter P. Kistler, president of the Foundation for the Future, nominated Paros for the Sperry Award—originated “to recognize the conception or implementation of fundamental contributions with a profound or significant impact in the broad field of instrumentation.” Kistler, an ISA Fellow, won the 1980 Albert F. Sperry Award.
Paros promotes educational programs in science and mathematics. Last year, he contributed $10,000 to ISA to establish the Paros-Digiquartz Scholarship Awards for promising students—an amount matched by ISA. This year, Paros contributed another $3,000 to that by donating his Sperry Award Honorarium, which ISA again matched, for a total of $26,000 available for ISA Paros-Digiquartz scholarships.
In addition to supporting ISA’s educational goals, Paros has endowed the “Professor of Measurement Sciences Chair” at the University of Massachusetts, the “Professor of Sensor Networks Chair” at the University of Washington, and the “Jerome M. Paros-Palisades Geophysical Institute Fund for Engineering Innovation in Geoscience Research” at Columbia University. Paros has also funded scholarships at four other technical societies and established high school math and science enrichment programs in the Boston and Puget Sound regions.